Culture Writer Frankie Rhodes reviews a moving touring production of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Spendid SunsWritten by Frankie Rhodes on 17th May 2019
Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Fire and Fury at the Birmingham Hippodrome
Culture Editor Olivia Boyce reviews a spectacular double bill, Fire and Fury, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome
The Birmingham Royal Ballet, one of the UK’s foremost ballet companies, has delighted audiences all over the UK since its creation in 1946, and it regularly treats audiences at its principal venue and home, the Birmingham Hippodrome, to extraordinary performances of ballet. Now the company continues its exciting 2018/2019 Season, ‘Beyond Words’, in style with Fire and Fury, a double bill comprising of David Bintley’s The King Dances and Juanjo Arqués’ Ignite.
The evening begins with The King Dances, choreographed by David Bintley, who will step down after the ‘Beyond Words’ season following 24 years as the Director of the BRB. Bintley has an illustrious history with the BRB, using his own experience as a dancer to choreograph extraordinary narrative pieces such as Cinderella and more abstract works such as ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café. The King Dances puts his immense choreographic skills to work in a piece inspired by 1653 ballet Le Ballet de la Nuit, revered as being an epic ballet performed by the ‘grandfather of all ballet’, King Louis XIV of France.
“'a piece which feels at once classical and current, both traditional and experimental...'
The King Dances combines elements of Le Ballet de la Nuit and more contemporary modes of ballet to create a piece which feels at once classical and current, both traditional and experimental. The piece is split into four ‘watches’, signifying the progression of the night throughout, and slowly a narrative unfolds of a king who dances through a demon-infested night with ‘Selene, La Lune’ until his coronation as ‘Le Roi Soleil’, the sun king who dazzles with his commanding dance and splendour.
Dressed in Katrina Lindsay’s gorgeous costumes that harken to the regal decadence of Louis’ court, the artists of the BRB impress from the second they emerge on stage carrying lit torches, at once threatening and mesmerising. Tyrone Singleton commands as ‘La Nuit’, the Machiavellian figure who lingers ominously as the young King is lulled to sleep, and he returns as the suitably menacing ‘Le Diable’. Singleton is one of the ballet’s more powerful balletic storytellers, using Bintley’s choreography to bring his characters to life through even the slightest of movements.
He is matched in this ability by Max Maslen as the King, ‘Le Roi’, and Yijing Zhang as ‘Selene, La Lune’, his otherworldly dance partner. Maslen is a powerful dancer who wonderfully charts the King’s journey from gentle leader to his triumphant closing moments, and Zhang is perfection as ‘Selene’, resulting in a powerful and moving pas de deux between them. Though the following two sections, in which Katrina Lindsay’s staging and Stephen Montague’s excellent music come into their own during haunted dreams and a splendid coronation sequence, it is this pairing, combined with their trio when dancing with Tyrone Huntley, that proves The King Dances to be a brilliant ballet indeed.
“'Maslen is a powerful dancer who wonderfully charts the King’s journey from gentle leader to his triumphant closing moments, and Zhang is perfection as ‘Selene’...'
Ignite is the second piece on the bill, and proves to be as captivating and intriguing as The King Dances. Making its world premiere, choreographer Juanjo Arqués has created a ‘choreographic unfolding’ of William Turner’s The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, attempting to draw out the movement within the art and translate this into movement on stage. The piece sees a large ensemble who complement artists performing as ‘Sky', ‘River’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Ignition’, moving from a gentle beginning to a striking, breathtaking crescendo that leaves audiences thinking long beyond the sombre moment that the curtain falls.
The piece begins with movements signalling the beginning of the devastating fire shown in Turner’s piece, as ‘Fire’ and ‘Ignition’ as well as much of the ensemble begin to suggest through movement and Tatyana Van Walsum’s bright costumes the building presence of the flames. They contrast heavily with Mathias Dingman as ‘Sky’, a distinctive presence amongst the red and orange hues of the ensemble, as the first movement builds to a crescendo moment where the fire is beyond any control. Dingman returns in the quieter second movement, to dance with Delia Mathews’ ‘River’. Mathews gives a particularly stunning solo, as she moves with a stunning grace and fluidity through pointe-work and balletic leaps, travelling around the Hippodrome’s large stage as if to reconquer for the water that which the flames have overtaken. Her dance with Dingman, less a moment of romance than a combining of elements that fire has yet to claim dominion over, is a beautiful homage to traditional pas de deux that nonetheless moves towards an altogether more abstract mode, much like the broader piece.
“'...a beautiful homage to traditional pas de deux that nonetheless moves towards an altogether more abstract mode...'
The final movements of the piece return again to the chaos of the scene, and in doing so, Arqués’ vision is fulfilled. The flames build, individual dancers becoming parts of a dynamic greater element, until in a spectacular moment the dancers shed their coloured robes and stand united, facing the audience as they slowly back away to the sound of crackling flames. It is a sombre but moving ending, and one not easily forgotten.
Ignite also stuns in its design, with Tatyana van Walsum’s staging and Bert Dalhuysen’s lighting coming together to provide staging which elevates the choreography and provides a new perspective via the use of mirrors, the startling effect of which has to be seen to be understood. Kate Whitley’s music, captivating and resonant under the brilliant performance of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and conductor Martin Georgiev, is the final touch in the creation of a piece which feels revolutionary.
“'The King Dances and Ignite are thought-provoking and truly stunning pieces of ballet...'
The King Dances and Ignite are thought-provoking and truly stunning pieces of ballet, fine additions to the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s already excellent repertoire. Each shows the brilliance of the BRB’s artists, designers, Sinfonia Orchestra and choreographers, and prove once again that the Birmingham Royal Ballet are masters of their craft.
For more information on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s upcoming season, visit https://www.brb.org.uk/whats-on.